Unpacking potential: Mushroom packaging can align with eco values of Gen Z luxury goals – start-up
Mykílio co-founder Beatrice Tan believes that mycelium packaging can fit in well in the luxury beauty space, where consumers see value in paying a premium for products that match their values.
“Especially when people buy into very high-end products, it isn’t so much as a need but a luxury that they are treating themselves. And it’s aligned to their values and when you buy high-end cosmetics, you’re buying into a value system.”
In particular, the start-up is targeting younger consumers, namely Generation Z, which is the driving force of luxury growth globally.
According to Bain & Company, Gen Z consumers started to buy luxury items at age 15, compared to millennials, which started at around 18 to 20. The spending of Gen Z and Gen Alpha is set to grow three times faster than other generations’ through 2030, making up a third of the market.
While luxury industry often excess and guilty pleasures, the younger generation are expecting luxury brands to align with their values.
“One conversation that we always have is about the cost and if [using mycelium] is going to be more expensive than plastic. Well, of course it is – not because plastic is cheap, but because it is under-priced,” said Tan.
“The cost of using plastic to the next generation isn’t zero. We could perhaps be paying 20 cents for plastic, but it will cost the younger generation $200 to clean up the mess we have created. By using plastic, we are, in essence, externalising to the next generation.”
Tan said Mykílio was “investing in the future”. As such, it made sense to involve the younger generation. The firm partners closely with Singapore’s Republic Polytechnic, working with the students and staff on various projects to spur the development of mycelium packaging.
Mycelium is a root-like structure of mushroom. It is a dense mass formed by a network of filaments called hyphae. In recent years, mycelium-based materials have cropped up for as a building material, a fabric, and packaging.
Mykílio saw the potential of using mycelium as an eco-friendly substitute for polystyrene foam, as it displayed shock insulation properties.
Founded in 2022, Mykílio uses food waste collected from local food and beverage outlets as a substrate, using it to grow the material from strains of mycelium it can find.
“If you keep your eyes open, you can actually find fungi everywhere, I have climbed into drains as well to find these strains,” said Tan.
Tan highlighted that it was important to utilise local strains as foreign strains can consume more resources, such as air conditioning, if they are used to cooler climates.
Furthermore, the start-up is still facing numerous challenges as there are many unknowns in this area.
For instance, it was still learning and discovering which strains and substrates work best together for mycelium to thrive.
“Like how we humans have different food preferences, fungi are the same. If the fungus doesn’t like the substrate that we are feeding it, then we can end up with contamination,” Tan explained.
Furthermore, matching certain substrates and strains can end up with materials of different finishes and textures.
Moving forward, Tan said the focus was on scaling up production of mycelium packaging. To do so, it is seeking funding that will help the firm with resources and manpower, as well as R&D and educational efforts.